Cooling Nerves, Cold Sores Attacking Cancer, 3D Printed Ears, Robots Filling Rx, and More
Amidst all the turmoil and uncertainty and volatility that we're experiencing in this economic environment, it's good to be looking to the future, to seeing where technological innovation is going to be taking us, providing some really exciting opportunities.
There's a new soft implantable cooling device that could provide pain relief on demand. It works by directly chilling the effect of nerves. This would block pain signals to the brain. This is a big deal because 20% of people, one out of five suffer from chronic pain, often due to surgery or an injury. Many, as we know, turn to opioids, which are highly addictive. Misuse leads to fatal overdose. 13,000 people died just here in the US alone from overdoses last year. Scientists have now figured out how they can cool a nerve to 59 degrees. This blocks the transmission of pain signals to the brain. The device dissolves within the body within a month, but the nerves can't be cooled indefinitely. If they try to do that, it creates long-term tissue damage. So the research is promising, but not finished yet. And so their efforts are continuing. This could be a breakthrough, though, in pain management.
Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research have genetically modified the herpes simplex. That's the virus that gives you a cold sore. And they're using this modification to attack cancerous tumors. It has apparently cured one person so far. He got injections every other week for five weeks and he's been cancer free for two years. The injections are administered directly into the tumor. You know how a cold sore eventually bursts? Well, that's what the tumor does. It just blows up. Gone. 40 patients are in this clinical trial. 10 of them report benefits. It’s pretty exciting that we're taking a virus and making it attack another virus.
You know, the microscope, it's been around for 400 years, but you can only magnify so much. So along comes a neuroscientist at MIT, Edward Boyden. He figured out a solution that if we can't look at smaller things, then let's make the smaller things bigger so we can see them more easily. He figured out how to make proteins five times bigger than they really are so they can be seen with a microscope, and that's furthering our ability to do research into healthcare innovations. Intellia Therapeutics is a company using CRISPR gene editing treatments to attack a rare genetic disease called hereditary angioedema. Of the 12 people in the study, 11 of them had reduced symptoms. Pretty exciting.
3DBio Therapeutics, a biotech company in New York, has used 3D printing to make a body part with a patient's own cells. A 20-year-old woman was born with a misshapen ear and she just got a new replacement ear. They're calling this a stunning advance in the field of tissue engineering. The new ear was printed in a shape that precisely matched her other ear. It will continually regenerate cartilage, giving it the look and feel of her natural ear. And because the ear was made from her own cells, her body probably won't reject it.
Well, first we had dairy-free milk and then meatless burgers. Now entrepreneurs are creating chocolate and coffee without beans. Cocoa and coffee farms are linked to deforestation - environmentally bad, plus the chocolate industry has been criticized for use of child labor. So one company is using fermented barley and carob as an alternative to cocoa powder. Another company uses fermented oats and sugar beets. A third is making lab grown cocoa. And on the coffee front, one outfit's creating coffee using synthetic biology and fermentation. They use date seeds, chicory root and grape seed. The caffeine comes from green tea. So pretty soon you'll be able to eat chocolate, drink coffee that is neither of the above.
Walgreens is the nation's second largest pharmacy chain. They are now using robots to fill prescriptions. This cuts the workload of pharmacists by 25% and gives them more time to deliver vaccinations and talk with patients. And by the way, it is saving Walgreens more than $1 billion a year. It's also solving their staff shortage issues. Walgreens has 9,000 stores, but they've been forced to cut pharmacy hours at a third of them. They're using eight robotic drug filling centers that are serving 1800 of their stores. And they're going to open another 16 of these centers over the next two years.
One of them, in Dallas, fills 35,000 prescriptions a day. Can you imagine how many human pharmacists it would take to do that? Robotics coming to pretty much every business and industry, and that's why it's such a huge investment growth opportunity.